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Russia: Popular Political Support Critical For Reforms

Washington, 2 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Leading financial officials are making a point thn Russia to succeed, there must be broad and strong popular political support.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Michel Camdessus said Thursday that the failure of the Russian government to win broad political support from the Duma and even regional government leaders helped sink the IMF-designed program this summer.

But Camdessus' top deputy, Stanley Fischer, said that it was worse than just failing to have support. Russia is a country "in which a large number of people want to go back to the old system," he told a world economic conference in Washington.

"It's a country in which a large number of people want a different way of doing things," he said.

The IMF, at the world's behest, went in and worked with Moscow to develop a plan for shifting from central planning to a market-based economy. "And for seven years, Russia made progress in reform," said Fischer. "Russia stabilized its inflation. Russia began to grow in 1997."

But, he said, "It was always a battle -- every single year."

For the IMF and the international community to have stood back and not weighed in on the side of market economics "would have been inexcusable," he said. "I think there are no apologies owed for what was attempted in Russia."

Fischer's comments were echoed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. In a speech at a financial conference in New York, Rubin said that building popular and political support for reform is "undeniably difficult," but that events in Indonesia and Russia have "amply demonstrated that the politics of reform are as important as the policies of reform."

Rubin said that in the nations where "political will and economic reform have gone hand in hand, such as Korea and Thailand, we are now seeing some progress toward recovery."